Thank you, thank you, thank you

“Here are the two best prayers I know: ‘Help me, help me, help me’ and
‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.” ~ Anne Lamott

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Review (again): A Broom of One’s Own

I wrote the following post two years ago to answer a “challenge.” I intended to post it at the end of September 2009. I got all tangled up in words and couldn’t write a thing. I intended to post it at the end of October. I still couldn’t write it. I think I managed to write it after the October deadline.

In the middle of the “process,” I considered posting the following review: “I like Nancy Peacock’s A Broom of One’s Own very very very very very much.”

But the challenge specified a four-sentence review, and I had hardly one, and I didn’t want to repeat it three times.

So there’s the background.

I must also add this disclaimer: I bought my copy of A Broom of One’s Own myself, with my own money. No one told, asked, or paid me to write this review. No one told, asked, or paid me to say I like the book. No one told, asked, or paid me to like it. No one offered me tickets to Rio or a week’s lodging in Venice, more’s the pity. I decided to read the book, to like it, and to write this review all by myself, at the invitation of Story Circle Book Review Challenge. Nobody paid them either. Amen.

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I like Nancy Peacock’s A Broom of One’s Own: Words About Writing, Housecleaning & Life so much that it’s taken me over two months and two missed deadlines to untangle my thoughts and write this four-sentence review, an irony Peacock, author of two critically acclaimed novels, would no doubt address were I in one of her writing classes.

She would probably tell me that there is no perfect writing life; that her job as a part-time house cleaner, begun when full-time writing wouldn’t pay the bills, afforded time, solitude, and the “foundation of regular work” she needed;  that engaging in physical labor allowed her unconscious mind to “kick into gear,” so she became not the writer but the “receiver” of her stories.

She’d probably say that writing is hard; that sitting at a desk doesn’t automatically bring brilliance; that writers have to work with what they have; that “if I don’t have the pages I hate I will never have the pages I love”; that there are a million “saner” things to do and a “million good reasons to quit” and that the only good reason to continue is, “This is what I want.”

So, having composed at least two dozen subordinated, coordinated, appositived, participial-phrase-stuffed first sentences and discarded them before completion; having practically memorized the text searching for the perfect quotation to end with; and having once again stayed awake into the night, racing another deadline well past the due date, I am completing this review—because I value Nancy Peacock’s advice; and because I love A Broom of One’s Own; and because I consider it the equal of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird; and because I want other readers to know about it; and because this is what I want.

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Humility check

In the previous post, I wrote a paean to myself in honor of receiving a positive critique in a recent manuscript contest. I was shameless. Because the judge wrote Fannie Flagg twice on the score sheet, I used the name five times in my anthem.

I was moved to lavish self-aggrandizement by memory of my mother, who often quoted Damon Runyon: “He who tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted.”

Today I do a bit of un-tooting. Below is a list of things the song of myself didn’t include.

1. My entry did not advance to the finals.

2. The judge read only the first ten pages of the potential novel.

3. When the judge said that to get an agent I’ll have to find one who “gets” Texas and the South, she meant she “gets” Texas and the South and, as a result, my small-town setting and my dialogue.  If she’d been unfamiliar with the vernacular, I wouldn’t have fared so well.

4. The selection process is subjective. I once wrote an entire post on this topic, but the story bears repeating: Five years ago an entry I submitted received a score of 80. The next year, in the same contest, the very same (unrevised) entry garnered 18 points. Judge #1 said the entry was funny. Judge #2 said that I should take a lot of workshops, read more books, and use MS Word to identify my egregious grammatical errors. And that my pre-teen protagonist’s parents were guilty of child abuse.

Oh dear. I thought I’d made peace with that. My point: if I’d drawn another judge this year, I might have come out with a much lower score, and my paean would be different in both tone and content.

5. In a sentence beginning, “My concern,” the judge says she “would have liked” something that last year’s judge, who read version #1 of the ten pages, would have liked as well. I’ll have to fix that–change the material without sacrificing the current dialogue, pacing, tone…

6. The novel isn’t a novel. It’s potential. It’s a WIP.

7. There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip.

To summarize–Opening that envelope and finding compliments inside encouraged me. It lifted my spirits. It showed me a glimmer of hope.

But it didn’t complete the manuscript, get me an agent, offer me a contract, hand me an advance, put me on the best-seller list, fill my coffers to overflowing, or ensure me a spot on Letterman.

In short, I have work to do. Continued self-aggrandizement will only get in the way.

After all, I’m already fighting background noise. Radio station KFKD plays continuously in my right ear, reciting my virtues. The constant yammering makes it hard to focus.

On the other hand, the “rap songs of self-loathing” pouring into my left ear don’t exactly speed me on my way either.

So I’ll take the critique sheet from the envelope, and with a loving hand smooth it flat, and place it in a spot where it will be visible as I write.

Fannie Flagg has been in the back of my mind for years. It’s time to move her right up front.

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Thanks to Ann Lamott, author of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, for exposing radio station KFKD for what it is.